Comic: Number 12 - Tarot Issue
Review by Diane Wilkes
When I was a little girl, my grandfather would bring me comic books when I was sick. He'd throw in the occasional romance, but mostly he brought me Archies and The Rawhide Kid. Since then, I was remotely aware of the renaissance of the genre, but the only comics I purchased and read in recent years were authored by Andrew Vachss, my idea of a superhero. When I read about the Promethea comic book, I was only intrigued because the issue being discussed focused on tarot. And even then, I didn't go into my usual acquisitive bloodhound mode and track it down. After all, it was a comic book.
Fortunately, a friend sent Promethea No. 12 to me for Christmas. This is not your grandfather's comic book. I couldn't believe the level of complexity and scholarship to be found in this little baby...
The comic book "backstory" is this: Sophie is a present-day NYC college student--a NYC that is super-techno-oriented. Sophie is more interested in myths, particularly the myth of Promethea, a mystic warrior from 5th century Egypt. In the tarot issue, Sophie takes on Promethea-like qualities as she flies through the air with Mack and Mike, the two snakes on the caduceus, who explain the mysteries of the Major Arcana to her in flippant rhyme. While the tone is decidedly cheeky, the text is filled with substance, not to mention arcane references way beyond my level of magick. To show just one example of Moore's cleverness: Rachel Pollack told me that Mac stands for Macrocosmos, and Mike, Microcosmos.
There are three levels going on--the first is Sophie's trip through the Major Arcana. On the bottom of each page, there is an ongoing story regarding Aleister Crowley, and each page has Scrabble™-like tiles spelling out an anagram of Promethea that apply to the tarot card being explored. One of the many extremely clever details is the Hebrew letter equivalent at the bottom of the tile (as opposed to the traditional point value).
Some of these anagrams are, naturally, a bit forced. But I love "Pa Theorem" for the Magician, "Mater Hope" for the High Priestess, "O Reap Them" for Death, and "Me Atop Her" (!) for the Lovers. Speaking of The Lovers, you can see from the linked image that the Adam and Eve myth for this card, so recently discussed on Tarot-l, is in full force.
In fact, the trip from the Fool (something from nothingness) to the World (rebirth after the end of the world, which will come in 2017, according to this issue) parallels the birth of mankind to the present. Temperance (Art) is the Renaissance; The Moon card refers to the Holocaust (there is even the gate to Auschwitz, with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" in front of clouds of smoke the color of blood).
There are so many levels to this comic book that I can't begin to address each one. But I was so impressed with the intelligence of author Alan Moore and the art of the many "co-creators" that I bought every back issue (Numbers one through six can be purchased in a beautiful bound volume with a blue ribbon bookmark--would my grandfather be surprised!). I highly recommend this comic book to every tarot enthusiast. And, at $2.95, this tarot publication is the best bargain I've seen in years.
While I haven't begun to read my Prometheas (darn update!), Rachel Pollack told me that there are other issues that feature the tarot. It seems that Issue Seven contains a partial photo version of the Frieda Harris Universe card.
Promethea Number 12
Art and text © 2000 Alan Moore; J.H. Williams; Mick Gray; Jose Villarrubia;
Jeromy Cox; Todd Klein
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes